The Death of Book Design

POSTED ON Jan 22, 2011

Joel Friedlander

Written by Joel Friedlander

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Book Design. (1452 – 2011). Born near Mainz, Germany, Book Design came of age in the heady atmosphere of Venice in the Italian Renaissance. He went through a rocky adolescence when he seemed to lose track of his roots, but matured into the confident and gracious Book Design of the twentieth-century’s Golden Age of Letterpress.

He grew up among the presses of his uncle Aldus Manutius, fetching lampblack and sharpening stones for Francesco, the punchcutter in the back of the shop who was always busy fashioning new typefaces to keep the levers on the big presses cranking.

Later he got caught up in a rough group, and spent his youth in the company of a delinquent named Billy Caslon and his henchman, Smooth Johnny Baskerville. Book Design barely escaped this period with his ligatures intact.

In the fullness and power of maturity, Book Design was infected with the deadly photo-offset virus. Undermining the connection between metal type and the pages of books, the virus slowly sapped the life from Book Design until, in his delirium, he could no longer resist the siren call of arbitrary placement on the page, quick and easy changes to basic layouts, and the promise of color, color and more color.

The virus was eventually brought under control, and Book Design entered one, final productive period of life. In an explosion of creativity in which old forms and standards were enlivened by the new offset techniques, Book Design reached an acme of achievement in the creation of books.

He learned to bring the disparate elements of typography and photo-lithography into harmony, achieving an often stunning frontispiece to his reality. All was well once again in the world of Book Design.

However, it would not last long. Book Design finally succumbed to a far deadlier virus that swept the world, infecting everything: digitization. Objects—formerly a part of the real world—slowly decayed into a series of “1”s and “0”s (whatever they are). Book Design was no different from Music, Art, or even Typing.

The infection proved to be too much. When it was discovered the virus was of the deadly verdana variety, hope was essentially lost. As the world watched, Book Design’s ePub count was rising dangerously fast.

As fonts—the basic building blocks of life—began to bend and warp under the pressure of digitization, the book itself wavered and then collapsed.

In the final stages of the disease, ePubs take over the bookstream, and books lose everything that had made them books to begin with. Book Design’s paper wasted away, and the covers that everyone had so admired faded to a collection of unreadable moire patterns.

One night, little noticed by any of his friends, under a Smashwords moon, Book Design breathed his last. He had dropped his serifs and was gone.

Oh, some say he was out where he shouldn’t have been, looking for a pixel he could love, when he fell into some sort of meatgrinder and that’s what killed him. But it’s just a story people tell to scare the little ones.

Book Design had been sick and losing density for many years. His ppi count was way down, and he was showing stress around his spine.

It’s no wonder. All the smiling sadists with their instruments of torture, their Kindles and iBooks, their Nooks and Tabs, had been unleashed on his body. Right in public, on busses and in coffee shops, they crushed and stretched his text, madly changing from Arial to Verdana to Baskerville and back again, viciously reflowing his insides over and over. It was just too much for his system to bear.

When a little menu popped up offering to change an entire book to Cochin in one instant, friends of Book Design knew the end wasn’t far off.

Book Design is survived by his stepsons, Digit Al Typography and E. Books.

There are rumors occasionally that Book Design has been sighted here or there in an old barn in Derbyshire, or off the coast of San Francisco, but no conclusive proof has ever been offered. The trade in so-called relics, like the phony Folio of Fortunata, with its promise of perfect alignment and infinite registration, are nothing but hoaxes perpetrated on the weak-minded.

In lieu of fleurons, donations can be made to the Old Typographers Rest Home and 24-hour Internet Cafe.


Photo by Ann Kinney

Joel Friedlander

Written by
Joel Friedlander

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